The White House is using mobile-first technology to facilitate conversation around everything from the State of the Union Address to online government petitions, according to Leigh Heyman, director of new media technologies for the White House.
In his keynote at ClickZ Live New York, Heyman shared that 52 percent of viewership of the 2015 State of the Union came from mobile, and that mobile users were primarily Millennials under age 30 along with Hispanic and African-American viewers. The White House saw the State of the Union as a chance to connect with often underserved groups.
“By focusing on mobile, we’re focusing on engaging with an audience that isn’t always well served by technology,” Heyman said. To draw in often marginalized viewers, digital strategists and designers created a mobile viewing experience that focused on engagement, by adding features like Spanish subtitles and a second screen “river of content” that provided real-time clips and graphics from the President’s speech that were immediately sharable across social.
“A screen grab is not engagement,” Heyman said. “It’s not a conversation. As we move toward social engagement, we had to make graphics sharable.” Making the State of the Union sharable paid off both for viewers and the White House. The 2015 State of the Union Address garnered 40,000 email signups and 17,000 content shares all in the span of 61 minutes.
The next step in the White House’s digital strategy is to use its State of the Union success as a learning experience for other online features. “Our long-term strategy is to apply the same collaboration [between digital strategists and designers] to a legacy platform.”
The collaboration between engagement and strategy is evident in whitehouse.gov’s petition feature, which not only allows users to create petitions, but also now features an open-source API to allow petition holders to own their own content.
“By owning the user experience, we are forcing you to drive your own users away,” Heyman said. “We solved that with the ‘write’ API. Now users can sign petitions without leaving your site.”
The open-source API at whitehouse.gov makes petitions more accessible to everyone by allowing users to create widgets to embed petitions on blogs and websites so activists never have to choose between driving users away to sign a petition or keeping traffic onsite.
Heyman hopes that whitehouse.gov’s move toward conversation is just beginning. He is hopeful that soon, advocates will be able to sign petitions on social media or even in what he calls “mobile IRL,” where groups can have supporters sign petitions on tablets instead of with pen and paper.
“We’ve hit a hockey stick moment [at whitehouse.gov],” Heyman said. “It isn’t just about reaching critical mass of population. It’s about hitting a critical mass of functionality.”
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